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What Causes Sudden Hind Leg Weakness In Dogs? | How To Help Your Dog With Leg Weakness

Updated: Sep 13, 2023

Maybe it was sudden hind leg weakness, or perhaps it's been coming on for a while. Either way, any kind of limb weakness in your dog is worrying and can be life-changing for you both as you adapt to a new normal.


This is your guide to what causes hind leg weakness in dogs, the symptoms, and how you can help to ease your dog's leg pain at home.



What causes sudden hind leg weakness in dogs?


The most common causes of hind leg weakness in dogs are trauma and age-related changes, such as arthritis. Weakness can be a short-term problem with a variety of treatment options, such as in many trauma cases. Or the cause may be more long-term (chronic), requiring life-long medical management and lifestyle changes.

Senior Golden Retriever with hind limb weakness caused by injury. The dog is lying on a veterinary consulting table, with its left hind limb bandaged with a pink bandage.
Senior Golden Retriever with hind limb weakness caused by injury

Vets group the causes of back leg weakness into four broad categories; orthopaedic (bones and joints), neurological (spine and nervous system), metabolic (disruptions to normal metabolism), or cardiovascular (heart and circulation).


Orthopaedic conditions


These are conditions affecting the bones and joints of your dog and include;

  • Arthritis

  • Hip dysplasia

  • Intervertebral disc disease

  • Patella luxation

  • Fractures and trauma.


Neurological conditions


Neurological conditions cause hind leg weakness due to restriction or damage to the dog’s nervous system. This may occur in the spinal column or within the limb itself. Brain damage may also impact your dog’s limb control.


Neurological conditions include;

  • Spinal tumours

  • Discospondilytis

  • Lumbosacral stenosis

  • Degenerative myelopathy.


Metabolic conditions


Metabolic conditions that impact back leg weakness in dogs can be individual or a group of concurrent conditions that negatively affect your dog. Metabolic disorders cause chemical reactions within the body that disrupt your dog’s normal metabolism and include:-

  • Liver disease

  • Diabetes

  • Hypothyroidism

  • Dietary deficiencies

  • Cushing’s disease.


Cardiovascular conditions

Small dog with a cardiovascular condition being examined by a vet with a stethoscope.
Cardiovascular condition being examined by a vet

If your dog’s heart or circulatory system is not working efficiently, oxygen will be reduced to your dog’s back legs, resulting in weakness and fatigue. Cardiovascular conditions that can affect limb strength include;

  • Congestive heart failure

  • Cardiomyopathy

  • Pericardial tumours

  • Heartworm disease.


What are the symptoms of hind leg weakness in dogs?


Every dog is different, and the causes of back leg weakness are wide-ranging. Look out for behavioural changes in your dog, as some changes can be subtle or come on over a long period, making them harder to spot.


Symptoms to look out for are;

  • Lameness

  • Reluctance to get up

  • Loss of balance or instability

  • Lack of coordination

  • Slower gait

  • Reluctance to play

  • Sleeping in unusual places

  • Licking joints

  • Loss of muscle

  • Lagging behind on walks

  • Reluctance to climb stairs to get into the car

  • Incontinence

  • Retained urine

  • Lethargy

  • Collapse.


Of course, many of these symptoms can also be attributed to other conditions, some of which are very serious. If you have any concerns regarding your dog's health, always consult your vet.


Does hind leg weakness just affect senior dogs?


No, many conditions that cause hind leg weakness can occur at any age—it is not exclusive to senior dogs. Getting an early diagnosis is the first step to recovering some, if not all, of your dog’s hind limb strength. Many conditions will only need short-term clinical management and support to heal fully, while others will require life-long treatment and changes to your dog’s lifestyle, home and exercise regimen.


How can I help my dog’s hind leg weakness?


If your dog’s hind leg weakness has come on suddenly, please seek advice from your vet urgently. If your dog’s hind leg weakness is gradually worsening, ensure you get a diagnosis from your vet to identify the cause and begin treatment. The suggestions below can help you to manage your dog’s condition but may also help to prevent hind leg weakness in senior dogs by ensuring they strengthen their legs throughout their life.


Regular check-ups and alternative therapies


Loss of strength, neurological control, or muscle mass and tone can be supported with regular check-ups from your vet and may require medical or surgical management. Your vet may also recommend other complementary therapies such as physiotherapy, massage therapy, hydrotherapy, or even acupuncture. Follow your vet’s advice and find a qualified, insured therapist to support your dog.


Exercise


Lameness and leg weakness may come hand in hand with pain for your dog, and your vet may advise restricted exercise. However, in many cases, exercise will improve your dog’s lameness [1], helping to maintain and even strengthen your dog’s hind legs. With regular exercise, you can prevent muscle loss, build muscle strength, and improve your dog’s proprioception (control of where to place their feet) and range of motion (how far they can move their joints).


Follow your vet or therapist’s advice and avoid being a weekend warrior. If your dog is struggling with their mobility, keep exercising little and often, with shorter walks every day rather than mini daily walks and an epic trek at the weekend. This can result in sore muscles and further injury.


[1] Greene, Laura M et al. “Associations among exercise duration, lameness severity, and hip joint range of motion in Labrador Retrievers with hip dysplasia.” Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association vol. 242,11 (2013): 1528-33. doi:10.2460/javma.242.11.1528


Weight management


63% of all dogs in the UK are overweight. [2] That’s a lot of dogs! And losing just 6% of body weight has been shown to significantly improve an arthritic dog’s lameness [3], so keeping those pounds off is one of the best ways to help your dog manage their conditions.


Not sure if your dog is overweight? A quick hands-on assessment, following the advice of the WSAVA, will help you identify if your dog needs to go on a diet.


[2] Larsen, J. A., & Villaverde, C. (2016). Scope of the problem and perception by owners and veterinarians. Veterinary Clinics of North America: Small Animal Practice, 46(5), 761–772. [3] Marshall, William G et al. “The effect of weight loss on lameness in obese dogs with osteoarthritis.” Veterinary research communications vol. 34,3 (2010): 241-53. doi:10.1007/s11259-010-9348-7


What can I try at home to support my dog’s leg weakness?


Diet and Supplements


A healthy, balanced diet, along with research-backed supplements, can help your dog’s back leg weakness. Diet and supplements are particularly important if you are dealing with arthritis or any muscle wastage. Joint supplements, such as omega-3, can support joint health and have been shown to improve lameness scores in dogs with arthritis. Ensuring your dog receives the right nutrients from their diet will help them maintain muscle mass, build muscle and prevent muscle wastage. Talk to your vet for nutritional advice that is specific to your dog’s condition.


Keep them active


Exercise is important to keep your dog fit and healthy, but it also supports their mobility and joint and muscle health. Regular exercise helps to maintain joint flexibility and muscle mass whilst preventing muscle wastage. If your dog struggles to get out and about, do some gentle stretches at home or work on some training. This will keep their bodies gently moving whilst stimulating them mentally.


Adapt your home

Senior dog with hind limb weakness standing next to a silver car with a dog mobility ramp going into the boot of the car for easy access.
Senior dog using canine mobility ramp

Slippery floors are a menace to dogs with limb weakness. Help prevent injury by covering slippery hard floors with carpet or a rug to give your dog more grip. You may need to help your dog into the car or onto furniture. A car ramp or steps will reduce the impact on their limbs as they get out of the car and prevent them from making impossible or painful leaps.


Change their bed


Traditional beds are often difficult to get into or aren’t supportive enough for a dog with limb weakness. Consider a Canissage Pulse Dog Bed for the ultimate support for your dog’s limb weakness. A Canissage Pulse provides not only a supportive orthopaedic foam mattress but utilises the best in Cycloidal Vibration Therapy (CVT).

This massage bed provides deeply penetrating, soothing and invigorating massage—improving circulation and easing muscle tension.


A Canissage Pulse bed delivers hands-free deep tissue massage and is clinically proven to work in four main areas...

  1. Increasing circulation and lymphatic drainage.

  2. Relaxing muscles.

  3. Increasing joint mobility and wound healing.

  4. Relieving Musculoskeletal pain.


Hindlimb weakness in dogs is a problem with a huge variety of causes, but consulting with experts, considering your dog’s lifestyle and providing the right tools and support will help your dog recover, maintain normal mobility and keep a spring in their step.


Think a Canissage Pulse Bed could help with your dog’s hind leg weakness treatment?


Order your Canissage Pulse Massage Bed here to support your dog’s mobility and hind limb weakness at home.

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